Monday, February 22, 2010

Taiwan vs China: A Swiftly Tilting Balance




Some great stuff reached my desk today, with a focus on the air balance in the Strait. First, an excellent review by Rick Fisher at the International Assessment and Strategy Center which offers both a historical rundown of Taiwan vs China in the air, and an evaluation of Taiwan's current situation. This is an extremely detailed review, with notes on technology and international relations. A taste for you grognards out there:
After many years of intense investment, the PLAAF has more, and very likely, better AWACS aircraft than Taiwan. While in 2000 the Clinton Administration succeeded in convincing Israel to halt its sale of Phalcon active phase array radar to China, for fitting on a Russian-made Beriev A-50 AWACS, four of these aircraft are now in the PLAAF. Asian military sources have stated that the radar signals from the KongJing-2000 (KJ-2000) AWACS are similar to that of the Phalcon. This turbofan- powered aircraft can also fly much higher than the turboprop-powered E-2T, meaning it can take advantage of its greater search range. The PLAAF also has about five less-expensive KJ-200 AWACS based on the turboprop-powered Xian Y-8 transport.[27] This aircraft uses a linear active phased array radar similar in shape to the Swedish Ericsson Erieye. China's ability to develop two types of active phased array radar AWACS demonstrates a world-class level sophistication in this technology. Such AESA radar are much harder to jam than conventional radar, as they are theoretically able to focus very powerful electron beams that could damage vulnerable electronic circuitry.
Also arriving was an unclassified DIA report on the current state of Taiwan's air force: not good, and declining. I've put the pages up as JPGs (top of the post) which you can download and blow up a little for clarity.

A Defense News article by local correspondent Wendell Minnick summarizes the DIA report, which he observes appears to favor the release of F-16s to Taiwan, and offers additional info. An excerpt:
Delivered to the U.S. Congress on Feb. 16, the report, DIA-02-1001-028, says that while Taiwan has nearly 400 combat aircraft in service, "far fewer of these are operationally capable."

The report is mandated by Congress under the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act.

Since 2006, Taiwan has had a standing request for 66 F-16C/D Block 50/52 fighters, but the United States has repeatedly rejected a letter of request for price and availability for the aircraft. The most critical problem is aging F-5E/F Tiger squadrons now used for training. The F-5s have "reached the end of their operational service life," the report says.

Taiwan claims it operates about 60 F-5s, but the report says "the number of operationally capable aircraft is likely much less, possibly in the low 30s."

The 126 Indigenous Defense Fighters (IDF) have "limited combat range and payload capacity restricts [the aircraft's] effectiveness in air-to-air combat," according to the report, which acknowledges the Air Force is making some efforts to modernize a "portion" of its IDF fleet.

The Air Force's 56 Mirage 2000-5 fighters suffer from high maintenance costs and lack required spare parts. They are "technologically advanced, but they require frequent, expensive maintenance that adversely affects their operational readiness rate." There are also "chronic difficulties with the aircraft's turbine fan blades" that have "severely hampered the fighters' readiness rates."

The Air Force is considering mothballing the fighters and "focusing resources on a more sustainable aircraft," according to the report.

Taiwan's 146 F-16A/B Block 20 fighters are in need of upgrades that improve avionics, survivability and combat effectiveness, the DIA report says, but "the extent of the upgrades, and timing and quantity of affected aircraft is currently unknown. The F-16A/B can be armed with the AIM-120C [AMRAAM] active-radar air-to-air missile." Taiwan has 120 AIM-120C-5 and 218 AIM-120C-7 missiles in its F-16 inventory.

"Despite the operational capability of Taiwan's fighter force, these aircraft cannot be used effectively in conflict without adequate airfield protection, especially runways," the report says. "Taiwan's ability to protect its aircraft and airfields from missile attacks and rapidly repair damaged runways and taxiways are central issues to consider when examining Taiwan's air defense capability."

Though Taiwan's request for new F-16C/Ds is not mentioned in the DIA report, the conclusion of the assessment points to the need for new fighter aircraft.

One U.S. defense industry source cautioned that the option of selling F-16s to Taiwan has a de facto deadline.

"If Taiwan is to have some credible air deterrent, then they need new, replacement aircraft. There is really no alternative to the F-16C/D. At some point this year, the F-16 supply chain will begin to shut down as there are no new orders and the U.S. and its allies switch to the F-35," he said.

"Once this happens it is cost-prohibitive to restart the line. This industrial time constraint will force the political decision either to sell the aircraft to Taiwan or not. If no, for all intents and purposes, the island will have no real means of defending its airspace."
The sad fact is that even the F-16 replacements will not be a match for China's advanced fighters, and China will have more advanced fighters than Taiwan will have fighters, period.
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10 comments:

Anonymous said...

There needs to be study of UAV vs piloted fighters. UAV technology could help Taiwan in an extremely cost-effective, man-power-efficient, defensive-oriented way. It is already clear that Taiwan needs tons of them and they would very effectively defend against a naval assault. If they could use that as an augment to air-vs-air capabilities, it would be a huge bonus and ensure Taiwan's security for a decade or more. Chengda (NCKU) could do it if they were given the resources and they already have a UAV program there.

Just as there needs to be a complete reorganization of government departments (need a lot fewer departments), there also needs to be a reorganization of the military. The army still has too many generals from the "take back China" era and needs a serious haircut and all savings should be directed towards the air force.

Regard the AWACS--actually, signal processing is something Taiwan could do itself. I don't know if they try, but they certainly have the talent and industry to make sophisticated radars.

Former Army special forces, current legislator's thoughts on Taiwan military reform

Anonymous said...

UAVs in air-vs-air situations is a long ways off unless you are going to fight beyond visual range, in which case, you really need to worry about friendly/foe/civilian. Well, perhaps if China was coming at Taiwan with a huge force and there was some stealth to the UAVs, it may make some sense. The real costs savings may not be on the machinery but on the pilot training though.

Thomas said...

I have always been a fan of pulling the Band-Aid off quickly and forcefully instead of bit by bit. It might have been easier to approve the F-16s and hand over the plans for the small diesel subs along with this current package. China might have cancelled some additional exchanges for a longer period, but it would be better than further disrupting the relationship later on. The air force problem will only get bigger, making it harder and harder for the Obamites to ignore. In fact, this would be a great issue for Republicans to pummel Obama on before the 2012 election. It would play right into the perception that he is soft on China -- a perception that could potentially become dangerously large if China continues to throw its weight around while exporting overcapacity to the detriment of US companies.

In related news, the Salt Lake Tribune has published a strikingly balanced piece on Ambassador Jon Huntsman's efforts to keep relations on an even keel in Beijing. http://www.sltrib.com/news/ci_14442669

The article actually considers the issue from many sides without inflammatory rhetorical flourishes.

This Huntsman interests me. He is only 49, he seems to be very intelligent, and he seems to have a flair for coloring within the lines that US diplomats are supposed to observe without looking like a lackey or a self-obsessed character. If he survives the Beijing assignment with no huge mishaps, he could have quite a bright future.

Michael Turton said...

The scuttlebutt was that Obama sent Huntsman out to China because he was a possible 2012 challenger. He's Mormon, so I don't think he'd be electable.

Thomas said...

Romney is also a Mormon.

I would once have agreed with you that Mormons are not electable. But the Republicans don't have many choices. Palin is a joke, Huckabee is quite far right, McCain is too old, Paul has only fringe popularity.

I think that a lot depends on how the next two years unfold. If Obama's reputation takes a further beating, a Mormon with a sensible platform, in the absence of other contenders, may be able to mount a challenge. Remember that Romney gave McCain a decent run in the primaries, and might have only lost out because of his faith. McCain is no longer an obstacle.

My point is not to make a push for Romney in 2012 or to demonstrate any love for Huntsman at this stage but to note that, Huntsman still has time to consider a presidental run if the cards work in his favor.

Dixteel said...

I think UAV is an extremely good idea. Taiwan should really look into it because that is probably the only area in which Taiwan can have a break through.

Without putting a pilot in the thing, it could be cheaper and much easier to make. The only real difficulty is in the wireless technologies, but that Taiwan should have at least some foundation to work on.

Currently no one uses UAV for Air to Air combat, but that does not mean it cannot be done. UAV does have some adv in air to air combat situation such as it does not have to consider the G force a pilot can sustain. It can go for 20 G without any worry, as long as the machine itself can handle it.

But Taiwan's air defense cannot rely on solely aircraft, UAV or SAM. I think it has to have all three.

Anonymous said...

First, air-to-air dogfights are kind of outdated. It's much better to take aircraft out on the ground, not in the air. Or interdict their support infrastructure, including radars, C2 centers, fuel, etc. Ever wonder why the Taiwan Air Force pursued F-16s in the first place, starting in the 1980s? If they were really interested in a fighter optimized for air-to-air, the Air Force would have requested release of F-15Cs in the 1980s.

However, if forced to engage a Gomer in the air, then the next best thing is see him and get an AMRAAM or two downrange before he sees you.

In theory, you could design both an air-to-ground and air-to-air capability around any airframe, manned or unmanned. But Taiwan's defense establishment is extremely risk averse.

P. S. said...

Interesting views on air force shortcomings and ways to mitigate. However, it would be interesting to see analysis of attack scenarios - that would dictate where future Taiwan defense money should be spent. Do you increase air-to-air and air-to-ship/ground capacity, or do you put it into missile defense in order to preserve air power after the missile attack waves? I'm sure this has all been gamed out, anyone seen such an analysis?

Jb said...

I am going to go "conspiracy theory" here. One thing I have been touting to my TW and, the few anyway, cn friends is that TW is just another US missle defense battery in the Western Pacific.

Anyway, back to the "theory". By selling used parts and scrap to the ROC keeps it weak and reliant on the US for protection. If/when the PRC decides to take the island, then the US will feel obligated to repel the attack and take positions on the island and settling the "Taiwan Question" once and for all.

Obama has no spine. I have no faith in him as a military leader. None. He will cower to the PRC like a little lap puppy. I dont care about this PRC owning $1 trillion of US debt. If the s*** really hit the fan, then the US will simply freeze all PRC assets in the country. Problem solved. Well, thats how its been done in tha past anyway.

Anonymous said...

Rohan for IndiataiwanJapanKorea Force

Taiwan in no case build up against china on it's own and must make some pacts with other Asian powers like India and Japan.
Taiwan and japan should fund and get involved with Indian defense programs.
The best thing about that will be they can rely on India completely as India has a reputation of standing on it's terms as they did for Tibet.
But none of these nation can go against china on it's own.
While India wants to see a free tibet which could be only possible with chinese moving back on their illegal claims over Taiwan Tibet and other part of asia and south china sea.

In between Taiwan should go for Brahmos missile system.As it is really powerful and taiwan will be able to put chinese navy on their toes with it.

Brahmos1 & 2 missile system in it's airforce will be very lethal too.

Taiwan need to go for vey capable interceptor and fighter jet.
And to strengthen it's current airforce superiority must go for typhoon and get a hand on F-35.

Along with LCATejas It's priced at just 25 million and at just over a billion they can get about 40 of these advanced machines .And will be able to take down vast no of mig21 and J-10 that chinese got.

Also taiwan need to understand its stupid to attack china and so must invest on to defend itself.And best option is to build a arsenal of missiles from long range to short range.
USA may help them out to achieve that.

But best thing would be to increase cooperation with India.
As India will love to include partners to fund its program and no matter what will always support taiwan in defense.And taiwan may somehow get a hand on agni missile system and deploy that against china.In that case china will think twice to come up with everymove against taiwan.
It must be achieved with more investment in India and inviting Indian students over there with university tieups.
With japan and India on its side along with korea Taiwan will be able to put itself on a world map independent of Chinese threats.